Submissive Choice

© 2005-2010 Brian Mork

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"Gentoo Linux, Open Source, Choice, Free-will, God, and ability to Create."  First posted Tuesday, October 11th, 2005 on the Increa Technology Blog.

Although I had dabbled with Linux for years, and installed my first sytem back in 1994 using a raft of floppy disks, I seriously engaged in 2004 to run Linux as my primary operating system at my home/office network. It forced a lot of learning.  I believe creativity happens when three things happen in sequence:

  1. learning
  2. immersion
  3. relaxation

This past weekend was a 3-day weekend due to the Columbus Day holiday. I’ve avoided the purist pursuit of running Gentoo Linux simply because compiling everything from scratch seemed an excessive immersion that would leave me with a lot of excess knowledge. I spent Saturday at the DARPA Grand Challenge, and then found myself unable to sleep at 4 am on Sunday. Monday, I finished building my first Gentoo system, including xfce4 and fluxbox desktops. That was the most intensive Linux work I’ve done in a long time. At every corner I was confronted with choices of what to install, and how to install it. There are dozens of each choice. Before heading to work, I compared MP3 tag editors, two of which are named MP3-Info and MP3info. I ended up going with MP3info and wrote a few scripts to move .ogg files into .mp3 for my son’s new iPod mini. That’s what immersion looks like at my house.

Then I arrived at work. Now, I know work isn’t suppose to be relaxation. And indeed it’s not. But it’s very different for me, so it relaxes the nuerons I had just been using. Then I came across an article by Martin Fink. It’s a courteously written motivation article meant to drive customers toward HP service divisions. What struck me was the sentence “What does [a mature open source community] mean for your business? In a word: choice. If you haven’t already begun to implement open source in your enterprise, let me tell you why you should.”

Boom. The thought arrived. Open Source is about choice. That’s why I spent nearly 36 hours of my life choosing individual packages to install on Gentoo. I actually enjoyed the pleasure of choosing. For better or worse (I’m a guy with predilection toward wasting inordinate amounts of time toward optimized selections), I compared numerous browsers. Sure, Mozilla Firefox is an obvious choice these days. For reasons of balance, cleanliness, and simplicity, I installed Dillo. As I pondered why to choose one or the other I found what, to me, is the first publicly available study toward the efficiency and pleasure of using a desktop.

As a business consideration, the upswing of Open Source predicts an increased need for consultants, who understand how to counsel choice. Not the normal short-term consultants that know how to repair installation problems or manage a system installation. Normal consultants solve problems vs. Managers who put them off until tomorrow. It will be a new class of consultant that exhibits balance and wisdom. That consultant will thrive in a society of computer software choices. But back to the issue of choice…

I realized this is a theme permeating my life. Concepts of free will (choice) are at the heart of Christianity, while at the same time bound up in the concept of a fully pervasive and instructional God. My strive to be totally debt free kept looking weaker and weaker in the light of business case models, but I found the energy to stay with it when I realized the real issue I was pursuing was freedom to choose without a long logistical tail of paying back. Lastly, my preference for computers started with a Heathkit CP/M computer, building it from parts. Since the late 1980’s, I’ve detoured into Windows and PC-based designs because the pressure of peers and compatibility. But those are issues for a user, not a creator. Urgent issues of life have turned me largely into a computer user. Recent exposure to the DARPA Grand Challenge teams re-awakened my desire to be a creator. Not necessarily software, per se. I cannot compete with the good men and women already doing this. I think at a system level. There are combinations and personalities of computer tools that work better for some people than others. We’ve all been shoe-horned into Windows. The ability to choose your own tool set is not a slam on Microsoft. It is simply a recognition that if I intend to create and contribute to the world around me, then a customized, chosen computer environment is necessary for me to do so.

I gained new conviction that the 36 hours I spent building my first Gentoo computer will pay back in other life areas.

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